Myanmar opposition leader and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi condemned on Monday the two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families living in the restive Rakhine state.
“It is not good to have such discrimination. And it is not in line with human rights either,” the Nobel Peace Prize-winner told reporters in Yangon, adding she did not know if the policy was being enforced.
The two-child policy, which dates back to 1994, speaks to fears among Myanmar nationalists that Muslims, who add up to roughly 4 percent of the population, will somehow outbreed the dominant Buddhists and supplant their authority and culture.
The Muslim Rohingya, who inhabit Myanmar's poverty-stricken western shores near the Bangladesh border, are viewed by many Buddhist locals as an existential threat.
A government report in May — which followed waves of machete deaths and arson sprees that drove Rohingya from cities — described the stateless group as procreating heavily yet failing to assimilate.
Officials reject the word "Rohingya" and often insist that the group amounts to invaders from Bangladesh or Bengalis left behind by British colonists.
Suu Kyi has drawn much international criticism for not defending in more explicit terms the estimated 800,000 Rohingya, especially after ethnic violence last year killed at least 192 people and displaced 140,000.
In an April report, Human Rights Watch accused the Myanmar government of engaging in a "campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.”
On Saturday last week, after a state panel on sectarian tensions, officials claimed overpopulation had helped spur recent violence, suggesting reduced birth rates could quell discrimination.
"The birth rates for Muslim families in this area are too high,” Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The Rakhine inquiry commission advised controlling the birth rate in its report, and we will follow their advice,” he added.
The commission’s report said the child-limit policy should "refrain from implementing non-voluntary measures which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human rights standards."
But the child-limit policy, which would also make polygamy illegal, is just one of many extant issues regarding the Rohingya, also known as Bengali. Because the Rohingya are labeled illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, they are not considered citizens of Myanmar, also known as Burma, and lack access to basic services and education.
In May, Suu Kyi's spokesman and close confidante, Nyan Win, told GlobalPost that she believes "there is no Rohingya ethnic group. It is a made-up name of the Bengali. So she can't say anything about Rohingya."
On April 17, Suu Kyi explained her position on the Rohingya issue at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.